The Culture That Gave Birth To #OccupyWallStreet

I have been very happy to see the Occupy Wall Street movement gaining momentum.  I have posted some prescient, but possibly unduly pessimistic, blogs about some of the issues that are being brought up with the OWS movement (From Feb 2011 –, but I have yet to join the actual protest.  I have been travelling and dealing with some health issues with my Dad, but I plan on joining at some point.  But before I can, I guess I will make some points on why I think this movement is important and vital right now.

People Saying That This Is Just Anger At People With Money

This is the narrative that is being pushed by Republican and corporate masters and their less intelligent minions in the general public.  Like many things with Republicans it is a concise, easily understood and completely misguided description of what the issues are.  People do not resent the money.  It is the fact that the political system is now a full-fledged partner in the massive consolidation of wealth in a very small percentage of Americans.

First off let us not pretend that the bankers and investment houses are Apple (who for all the good it produced, American jobs was not high on the list) or General Motors in that they produce products people can use and employ lots of people to do so.   They are gamblers in a casino.  They are playing three card monty.  The problem is that not only are they counting cards that represent working families’ money, the Casino (the government aided by lobbyists) are helping them!  The Casino wins, the Wall Street gamblers win, and then the American people lose.  This is not anger about the money they earn; it is anger at how the system has been gamed and rigged to give them an unfair advantage in the form of government access.  And not only is it rigged – it is so rigged that it will only get exponentially worse.  They have more money, which allows them to buy our government, which will enact further advantages in tax breaks and loopholes (or de-regulate protections) which will reap more money that they can then use to… buy more protections from government and so on.  And this leads to my next point:


Lobbying Is A Bigger Enemy

To a certain extent the Wall Street culture and those who embrace it are the obvious villains in the current narrative.  But to be fair they are playing a game that our country has allowed to go on.  For anyone who has not read it, I strongly recommend “Winner Take All Politics.”  It is a book, that in more scientific terms, defends the premise of comedian George Carlin that elections are illusions of personal political power.  We are always obsessed with fund raising during big elections and voting for major candidates, but in between elections it is the lobbyist for the wealthy (yes to detractors on the right, unions have lobbyists too, but the influence of the Union has dwindled just like its membership and the status of the working man) and corporations that determine what actually happens.  Lobbying money is bigger than campaign money, it is more secret than campaign money and it has more effect than campaign money.  And after a while, the Senators and Representatives who work for us realize that their job is to be re-elected and that their best friends are their lobbyist and contributor buddies.  And there is only one way to break those shackles.

Congress Needs Term Limits

I still do not understand why the President has term limits, but Representatives and Senators can serve until they die.  These are the people that need term limits more than anyone!  The President’s office is much harder to operate in secret, whereas there are 535 members of Congress who are continually being offered things from their corporate suitors and unless you are like my Uncle and watch tons of CSPAN you are probably in the dark about Congress in general.  If they all had term limits (and this is PARTY NEUTRAL) then they could actually listen to the voice of Americans and not the voice of lobbyists.  And I actually do not resent the far right direction of the House.  The Framers intended the House to be the chamber that catered to the fickle will of the people.  And “right or wrong” the People wanted something different in 2010 and the House operated as it was intended to to a certain extent (if we ignore massive anonymous corporate campaign contributions).  The real prostitutes are the Senate.  The intent of the Senate was that it be a branch of government above the indignity of elections every two years, which would allow its members to make decisions based on long term needs.  But Senators of both parties have turned out to be the worst.  That is why even Democratic Senators like Mary Landrieu (La.) and Jay Rockefeller (W. Va) can support oil subsidies and coal mining because they enjoy their seats of power and therefore, will cater to to provincial corporate interests rather than the better long term environmental health of the United States.  Hate or love the tea party, but they were on politicians like hit squads that did not do what they wanted.  Perhaps it is time for Democrats to do some house (and Senate) cleaning as well.  But the Tea Party did not act alone.  It was aided by the judicial branch.

Citizens United

When the Supreme Court decided that restrictions on corporate donations violated the First Amendment it gave Tea Party backers (who either believed in their cause or simply could use them to enact an extremely business friendly political climate) the ability to become national political hitmen.  That is why from small local elections to disastrous Republican Senate nominations like Christine O’Donnell there was a dramatic shift right for the Republicans.  They could not actually flood every single primary with money, but they now had a weapon to make Republicans afraid that they COULD BE targeted.  But beyond all of these things, there is a fundamental problem in America and nothing short of a revolutionary movement will probably correct it.

Our Culture Has Become One of Greed and Ignorance

The most popular reality television shows (besides Jersey Shore) are the lot that feature “real, working Americans.”  From Coal, to Gold Diggers, to Deadliest Catch, the shows are in the dozens.  And it makes sense that they are on television because they represent an American fantasy.  See there is a market for all of these shows because we like to romanticize the working man.  These shows should be on Disney because they are bordering on fiction.  America is like the girl that dates the garage worker because it pisses off her father and she wants to “feel real,” but eventually she settles down with a lawyer or an investment banker.  She has experienced authenticity at a safe distance.  That is what we do.  People love watching these shows because they represent what America used to be, but when it comes to providing jobs and industry to people like the ones on television, well that is a little “too real.”

Or maybe you are one of the many Americans who enjoy watching pastors on television, like Joel Osteen, that have developed this prosperity gospel, where God wants and loves those who make lots of money (I believe it was Jesus Christ who said, “Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man enter the Kingdom of Heaven”).  So now television is telling you that the rich are blessed by God and that the working men are fine and kicking ass on reality television, so who are these socialist scumbags trying to overturn a country that is supposed to be about making tons of money?

Many of them are people who cannot get jobs. Does that mean they are lazy?  Perhaps. Or is it also because we are an economy and a corporate structure that has one goal – pleasing shareholders and boards of directors?  We value stock price as not just the most important factor in corporate success, but the only one!  Need to raise your share price?  You could invent something, or layoff 1000 workers, either way you will be viewed as more attractive, more efficient and your shareholders will be happy.  Mission Accomplished.

Now I understand we are not and probably never again will be an industrial economy, but are there major initiatives to make our country better at math and science to create or build the next industry?  Of course not, because that might require tax money or deeper sacrifices from the wealthy or a belief in science from half of the country. We should be leading in green technologies.  Even if you are a climate change skeptic (i.e. moron) there is a huge market for energy efficient and carbon neutral products.  From a business perspective isn’t that enough of a reason to lead in that area?  Of course not, because too many industries have their hands deep into the souls of our lawmakers.  So they attack the science (which is settled) and never even address the fact that if done right we could become a power economically by leading this industry.

Or why not a high speed rail system?  There are laborers looking for work and our train system is ancient compared to Europe and Asia (Shock of shocks – America not #1 or #2 in this area!!!).  But there are industries that cannot possibly want this (oil and aviation to name two).

Of course money sometimes has a “good” effect, but I believe its influence, regardless of the cause, must be removed.  The power must be the people’s again.  When gay marriage passed in NY State it was a big moment and seemed like a triumph of good, but I saw it as a triumph of money.  Only the threat of campaign contributions from some wealthy businessmen who had changes of heart on gay marriage swung the necessary votes.  As AC/DC said, “Listen to the money talk.” I would have preferred marriage equality to come the way it should have because it is the right thing.  I am sure I do not speak for gay people who were thrilled to have the rights by any means necessary, but do not ignore the fact that that was money and not justice at work for those critical swing votes.

Who Is To Blame?

I have a friend named Martha who is always asking me why I do not blame Obama (or at least give him a “fair share,” to borrow his tax mantra) for the country’s economic problems.  One issue she had was with the original bailouts.  I am no economist, but I know Paul Krugman is a Nobel-Prize winning one and he wrote that without those original bailouts the country would have fallen off a cliff into a great depression.  Obama cannot change the entire system (hell he tried to give more people health care and was henceforth known as Hitler) and yet that is what I believe is necessary.  Obama has tried to be a great compromiser, but instead he has been portrayed as a Muslim, American hating socialist by the right and a gutless coward by the left.  The Republicans have had an obstructionist agenda from the beginning (a well calculated risk that would not have had as much traction with a caucasian president, because the most ignorant and radical elements of the tea party and Republican party are also the ones most likely to have antebellum notions of Negros).  If you doubt that then why did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say that “Republicans’ top priority is to make President Obama a one-term president?”  So  given this incredibly hostile political climate I cannot blame Obama for not being or acting like a super hero.

Now some people will say “The climate in Washington is even worse, not better since Obama took office.  he promised better and it is worse.  he ruined it.”  Now that is correlation without causation.  Similarly to how banks started passing more fees after Dodd-Frank was passed.  Or how health insurance premiums started rising more after “Obamacare” passed.  These actions are no different than mob bosses who demand “protection money.”  Obama came with good intentions and perhaps too much naivete about Washington (the biggest reason Hilary Clinton may have been a more effective president), but the response to him and his initiatives are nothing less than a shakedown to convince dumb Americans that the correlation of their responses to Obama’s actions are in fact CAUSED by Obama, which they are not.

So who is to blame – well I think Wall Street, the lobbyists, the unyielding Republicans, the Democrats to a lesser extent all have a part to play, but (and Republicans should like this) I think we need to take individual and collective responsibility as American citizens.  The American Dream is a fantasy.  Take Steve Jobs as an American Rorschach Test.  For many Americans they saw it as the American Dream – any American, even one living in his parents’ garage, can rise to become a brilliant inventor and change the culture!  But that is looking at it through the eyes of an American Dream that does not exist.  He is the American Exception.  He was so brilliant and inspired that he would thrive and create anywhere.  He succeeded through his own exceptionalism.  Do not let Steve Jobs become a Pat Tillman for the business sector of America.  Are we saying that to make a decent way in America you now must be exceptional? Possibly because to millions of Americans, work ethic and responsibility are not enough any more.

Here is a hypothetical (at least to me – it may be very real to others) that I think sums up why I believe in the #OccupyWallStreet movement.

During one of the Republican debates, Ron Paul was asked about a healthy 30 year old man who chose not to get health insurance and subsequently got very sick.  This was the “let him die” moment during the debate, when a few crowd members shouted that.  The question I would have wanted to hear asked is, “What if a 45 year old father of two, who has worked for the same business for fifteen years, gets laid off.  He has COBRA benefits, but they run out before he can get a job again because of a tough job climate.  Then during a routine physical that he is paying for out of pocket it is determined that he, after some more tests, has a treatable, but eventually fatal, disease.  What should we do with THAT man?”  That is the question Americans should be asking.  What do we do when a man who believes in the system and plays by the rules, but falls on hard times.  What happens when THAT man is failed by our system?  What do we do then?  For me, all of these things, the imbalance of political power by gross inequality of wealth, the political bickering, the deceit, the game playing, the shameful politics and the ignorance in this  country all come down to the fate of that man.  The way the country is right now is a country where that man dies or if he doesn’t his family that he fought and worked for is homeless because of his crippling bills.  The country I want America to be and the country that I think Obama wants and that I believe the #OccupyWallStreet movement wants, is the one where the climate, the culture and the system in place create a country where he lives and lives the life he has worked for.  But to do that I think a lot will have to change first.


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  • smooth edward

    EXCELLENT! Fine piece of writing and thinking about the very serious issues that face us. As we both know, no one is more serious than a comedian.

  • Ken Benton

    Hey JL-

    I agree with some of what you say (especially in the beginning) and you have a lot of different points so I can’t respond to all of them. I like the term limits idea- it would seem better to have citizen legislators than career politicians. I think you try to equare not liking corporate, Wall St., or other special interest donations with being “Republican” where I think the evidence is pretty clear it’s bi-partisan. i.e. Obama raised far more money from Wall St. than McCain in addition to other corporate donations AND the public sector unions money. (Also while unions as a whole have shrank, public sector unions are the largest special interests in the country). Obama may set a record again for money raised this time, and obviously it will mostly be special interest money. So I think you should probably be a little more even-handed there.

    Also, if you are against the public-private rigged game, it makes little sense to then be pro-green energy. While other industries may have eventually been turned into private-public partnerships, it is by far the best example of an industry that singularly exists due to the public-private partnership. The most rigged game out there is green energy. Also, I don’t understand why you think there is demand for the green products as they actually exist at the same time you think corporations are greedy. If they could make money on these products, they surely would, no? As it stands now, they can only make money if they get special deals from the government (again, which you oppose on principle elsewhere).

    But I enjoyed your take and again, agree with a decent chunk.

  • Greg Collett

    Some great points, JL.

    Let me summarize: Most of us live and work under a system of free market capitalism. But some of us – banks, for example – have rigged it so they get to work in a system of Fixed market capitalism.

  • Raymond James Rivera

    Agree with Ken above, some of your points I have heard before and DO make sense, but yeah it is the WHOLE system that is problematic, and both parties are at fault. Also, I think no matter who is in office, the opposing party wants them to be a “one term President”, I really don’t think race has to do with it. As you said, money and power do.

    TOTALLY agree with personal responsibility! No one forces you to have credit cards or mortgages. Unfortunately ego gets in the way of people saying, “I fucked up” or “I can’t afford this”. If people looked at their own situations and lived within their means things would be a lot better. It is a simplified answer because we don’t have space here, but simple works. They are banks. THEY NEED US more than we need them!

    Also regarding green energy, I don’t think we’ll see any major shift on that issue until the oil runs out, which I have heard has like another 100 years or so left. So there is no way they are going to throw trillions of dollars away… I really think big oil is just a big a problem if not a bigger one, than the banks, because I think it drives our foreign policy, but what can we do about that?

    And yes, you are a righteous prick; you should work on that 🙂 Nothing good ever comes from righteousness…

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